At the ripe age of 53, I don’t get goose bumps, at least not like I used to as a kid, nor do I well up with emotion, but when Emily Stone of Uncommon Cacao turned to me and said, “This is Criollo Cacao and represents less than 0.05 % of the cacao produced in the world…” then I knew we were onto something special.
The day started at Playa Viva, our 12 room, Luxury Sustainable Boutique Hotel on the beach next to the town of Juluchuca near Zihuatanejo [Note: we use sustainable as we feel the word “regenerative” wouldn’t be understood by most guests]. Juluchuca has about 600 inhabitants and is at the base of a watershed whose headwaters start at Don Jesus’ farm, where Emily first told me about how endangered and special the cacao was the Don Jesus and his family were growing.
Inspiring Social and Environmental Transformation
I’m a chocoholic, and Emily works to help smallholder farmers get their cacao beans to premium bar makers. This is about bean to bar for premium chocolate. But for Playa Viva, this is also part of our overall strategy for Social and Environmental Impact. In this case, Ecosystem Development is part of Social Impact strategy for Economic Development of an entire watershed.
What does that mean? It means that Playa Viva sees itself as a platform for opening doors between our guests and the larger social and environmental community to bring a more sustainable and better standard of living to the local community of which we have become a part. This to me is about transformation.
Core Values to Drive Decision Making
When we started Playa Viva, back in 2006, we hired a group called Regenesis Group whose development concept is (and I paraphrase) “building green is doing less damage, building sustainable is net neutral, building in a regenerative matter makes the place better.”
Regenerative development is based on Whole Systems Thinking and starts with a History of Place to define our role in stewardship of the land in the short period of time we are really holders of this place. After gathering this fundamental information, we held our design Charettes — meetings with various and varied stakeholders — and came up with a set of Core Values to drive our decision making at Playa Viva:
- Use only locally produced, clean and renewable water and energy
- Create “meaningful” community
- Promote biodiversity
- Create a living legacy (think 7 generations)
- Create transformational experiences
The Embodiment of a Vision
We are creating transformation in the local community by transforming the landscape: planting 10,000 native trees to restore a once-thriving coastal forest that fell victim to slash and burn agriculture and ranching; restoring mangrove; and supporting a local marine turtle sanctuary. However, the transformation is most remarkably seen in the people. This starts with our guests who are changed by their experience at Playa Viva.
A guest recently shared with me, “my experience at Playa Viva changed my life and as a result I am embarking on this mission to promote sustainable living.” Similar comments about how experiencing Playa Viva has caused some personal transformation are wonderfully all too common.
So why the goose bumps? Because that moment was the embodiment of a vision. A vision to create a completely organic watershed that starts at the headwaters, with organic products like bean to bar cacao and farmer-roasted coffee, all the way down to the estuary where those waters collect at Playa Viva.
Committing to Ecosystem Development
Playa Viva now has 12 acres of organically certified land, and we are working with farmers up the watershed to have their lands certified. This too is part of an Ecosystem Development project, in conjunction with 18Rabbits, producers of organic granola and granola bars.
Emma Sharer, 18 Rabbit’s head of production, was an intern at Playa Viva back in 2009. When she got word from the board and the president of the company that they wanted to buy direct from farmers, she remembered her experience at Playa Viva working with the local community.
As a result, the president, a board member and Emma came to meet the farmers and agreed that going direct was more than just about cutting out the middleman, but it meant committing to Ecosystem Development and letting farmers know, “If you plant organics, we will buy them.” This commitment is transforming the landscape and creating a healthier watershed and healthier farmers and families.
This project is being led locally by Nick Wolf, another former intern at Playa Viva, who now lives in Zihuatanejo and not only works with local farmers, he also founded and leads the local artisan and organic farmers market – the Eco-Tianguis Sanka.
A Hotel for Transformational Experiences
The examples above are just skimming the surface on so many deeper stories, but hopefully you now understand where the goose bumps come from. Because our flow is “from headwaters to base of the estuary” and creating transformation that changes lives of so many people that are touched by Playa Viva: farmers, interns/volunteers, guests and all of us that make up the local community.
When I meet someone at a cocktail party and they inevitably ask me, “so, what do you do?” I just tell them, “I run a hotel.” It’s hard to explain in an elevator pitch that we what we really do is create transformational experiences and that a Luxury Hotel can cause real transformation.